Actress Karla Souza brings an international résumé to the Philadelphia-based thriller How to Get Away with Murder.
“I would love to do a true-story [film about] athletes,” says actress and former gymnast Karla Souza, citing Black Swan and RagingBull as examples.
With a mane of shiny mahogany tresses, piercing blue eyes, and those magnificent eyebrows, it’s little wonder that, within a few short years, Karla Souza rocketed to the top among Mexico’s A-list actresses. But, as she quickly found, international fame means nothing during Hollywood’s merciless TV-pilot season. “It was so terrifying,” the 29-year-old recalls with a laugh. “I thought to myself, This is the worst thing that anyone could ever do.” Souza, who had appeared on dozens of Mexican magazine covers and who even starred in 2013’s Nosotros Los Nobles (We Are the Nobles), the highest grossing Spanish-language film in the U.S., was treated no differently than any other of the thousands of actresses looking for their big break in the US.
But Souza, who was born in Mexico City and raised in Aspen and the South of France, became one of the lucky few to book a pilot during her first season. And what a pilot it was: Souza was cast as the enigmatic law student Laurel Castillo on Shonda Rhimes’s runaway 2014 hit series, How to Get Away with Murder. “I didn’t really know much about ShondaLand,” she says, referring to Rhimes’s production company. “And suddenly the pilot got picked up, everything started moving, and we broke records in the opening episode. I couldn’t believe what people were telling me, ‘It’s the highestrated new show on television.’”
However, her success was hard-won. Souza was committed to her future profession after landing her first role at age 7 in a ski flick called Aspen Extreme. But her parents had other plans. “They always put conditions on me becoming an actress,” she says, like getting the best grades and applying to different universities. Souza completed her degree at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, followed by an intensive Stanislavsky course in Moscow. From there, she returned to Mexico City and made a whopping 15 movies in five years.
For all her world traveling, Philadelphia remains one of Souza’s most cherished cities. “We filmed the pilot [here] last March; I fell in love with Philly,” she says. “The cast calls it our ‘honeymoon’ phase. We were all staying in a hotel together, so it was like summer camp. We’d just chat away and get to know each other.” But as peripatetic as Souza has been, she now relishes the constancy of working in television. “I think being on a TV show is the best stability an actor can ask for,” she says. “And to be working with Shonda Rhimes on one of the highest-watched shows, it just doesn’t get better.”